Into Film seeks to put cinema at the heart of children and young people’s learning, contributing to their cultural, creative and personal development. Here, some of Hollywood’s biggest stars discuss how film has enhanced their education and helped them to pursue their dreams.
Film has taught us plenty. We all know that the coolest way to enter a car is through the window (or via a wholly unnecessary bonnet slide); that the most dangerous day of your career will inevitably be the day before you retire (maybe just book it off?); and never, ever, to bring your snakes onto a plane. And while those top tips will have little relevance in most people’s lives (unless you’re a playboy millionaire, jaded cop, or Samuel L. Jackson), the silver screen does have many more practical learnings to offer.
Millions who have never crossed the Atlantic, let alone set foot in Manhattan, will feel they know every inch of the Big Apple’s mean streets. From the high-rise views of Spiderman to the down and dirty dives of West Side Story, the city is seared into our brains. You’d even feel confident of recommending a good deli, courtesy of When Harry Met Sally’s infamous eatery scene, and wouldn’t need to browse TripAdvisor before suggesting visitors crash out in the comforts of The Park Plaza (Thank you Home Alone 2!). The work of NYC-leaning auteurs has left an indelible mark on the way we perceive their city.
The impact of film in this sense is extraordinary. It is a learning tool of huge potential. Prone to the odd exaggeration admittedly, but its capacity to bring place and period to life is unmatched. And it’s not just broadcasting geography and history, but life lessons too. Modern fairy-tales (and anyone who has marvelled at Pan’s Labyrinth could hardly dispute the parallel) on film can alter the way we approach the world, providing take-away morals and messages, from the whimsical ‘life is like a box of chocolates’ to the stirring “get busy living, or get busy dying“. Your cinema ticket doesn’t just buy you two hours of entertainment, but the opportunity to grapple with and engage the important issues on a level both global and deeply personal.
Leading education charity Into Film recognizes this power, and is dedicated to putting film front and centre in young people’s learning, in the belief that the magic of cinema can play a key part in their creative, cultural, and personal development. Filmmaking can transform classrooms into places of wonder and ingenuity, while the work of movie masters – from Spielberg to McQueen – can inject buckets of colour into history lessons, offer thought-provoking interpretations of literary classics, and provide jet fuel for the imagination.
The inaugural Into Film Awards ceremony takes place on Tuesday 24th March, at London’s iconic Empire Leicester Square. Knocking one off the bucket-list nice and early, schoolchildren and the filmmakers of tomorrow will have the chance to walk the red carpet alongside the stars of today. The ceremony will pay tribute to the work of the prodigiously talented 5 to 19-year-olds who have demonstrated exceptional achievements in their first forays into filmmaking and reviewing. They’ll be just some of the thousands of regular Into Film ‘film club’ attendees who have benefited from gaining crucial life lessons, straight from the charity’s bulging catalogue of movies each week. So, to celebrate these lessons – and indeed next week’s nominees – we’re drawing on the wisdom of some of the film world’s biggest stars, to offer a rundown of the myriad ways that the movies have taught us everything we know…
“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys”
A good movie takes its audience on an adventure – introducing them to different cultures and ways of being from the comfort of the sofa (or in Into Film’s case, from the school desk). Watching the likes of Slumdog Millionaire you realize the globe is a ginormous place full of verve, difference, and opportunity. Film makes moviegoers look at the world around them with fresh eyes, reassessing their places within it, and the direction they’re heading. Or, as Andrew Garfield puts succinctly: “we need stories to explain what the hell is going on at any point in our lives”.
Describing the effect coming-of-age classic The Goonies had on his formative years, he says: “It was kids being kids, and finding their own adventure, that was so powerful for me.” And seeking that sense of adventure is exactly what led to him booting up in a latex supersuit years later, as everybody’s favourite neighbourhood Spiderman. Film makes you want to follow your heart – bills be damned – and seek out your own personal adventure. Whether following the example of reluctant hobbit Bilbo Baggins leaving the home comforts of The Shire, or joining your classmates standing on a desk and quoting Whitman. From Reese Witherspoon’s blister-inducing trek into the Wild, to Carl Fredricksen ditching the city and heading to the clouds in Pixar’s majestic Up, the right film can leave you handing in your notice and booking an unending holiday. Carpe diem indeed.
“24 hours a day. Seven days a week. No job is too big, no fee is too large”
…Or, it might just make you do the opposite. Just as Gordon Gekko inspired a new generation of banking hotshots – confident that their days would be spent making millions while shouting into baguette-sized mobile phones, film has played the role of surrogate career advisor, launching a thousand job searches. Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar-winning portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything will surely see test tube and lab coat sales shoot through the roof, and you can bet students will be paying extra attention in class after they watch Alan Turing’s maths professor win the war in the Benedict Cumberbatch-starring The Imitation Game.
How many lawyers vowed to take the bar after hearing Colonel Jessup’s “you can’t handle the truth!” line? And how many astronauts took their first steps towards space-walking after enjoying Ron Howard’s out-of-this-world Apollo 13? Though, in the case of director Gareth Edwards and An Education star Matthew Beard, their dream jobs could only be found in a galaxy a fair way away. Edwards admits “as soon as I saw Star Wars I knew what I wanted to do with rest of my life: join the rebel alliance, blow up the Death Star, and find out Darth Vader is my father.’ Beard had the more modest goal of simply becoming a Jedi. Good thing they had a back-up plan.
“You’re better than that!!
There is no-one out there who hasn’t walked out of a cinema at some time and started mimicking their on-screen heroes – altering their gait, rattling off one-liners, and copying the slightest mannerism. (Even the stars themselves are not immune to it. Ryan Gosling freely admits the gentle New York twang of his accent is a tribute to Marlon Brando – an actor whose legacy has single-handedly kept white t-shirts relevant for the last six decades. But the impact of film on the way we act and behave can leave a far deeper mark than merely influencing our speech or style. From manners to mind-sets, they can teach us how to live today: their actors working as charismatic tutors specializing in emotional intelligence. Charles Dance credits Peter Finch’s performance in A Town Like Alice with being “the first leading man actor who wasn’t afraid to show vulnerability. At that time, it wasn’t done. Leading men in film were strong and stout-hearted, they didn’t show their emotions”. Well they do now – no Oscar®-winning performance is without a display of self-doubt. And these portrayals of men in popular culture, unafraid to cry, or ask for help, or admit weakness, has surely seeped into the everyday – proving you don’t have to be a strong, silent John Wayne-type to be a ‘real man’. Or, as Emma Stone says about her favourite Planes, Trains and Automobile scenes, as John Candy reacts with heart-breaking devastation to Steve Martin’s hilarious, audience-pleasing putdowns: showing “how one person’s reality is so different from another’s.” There can be few lessons more worthy.
“You talking to me?”
Silky Bulgarian footballer Dimitar Berbatov famously admitted to learning most of his English from The Godfather trilogy, which might explain why he proved so dangerous to Premier League defences, aided by his uncanny Andy Garcia looks. Learning a new language is all about throwing yourself into a new culture – consuming all media on offer, absorbing everything. And what better way than through film? After all, if you should ever find yourself abroad, there’s no better water-cooler talk with a new colleague, than a broken back and forth about the latest local blockbuster. Keep one eye on the subtitles and the other on the screen and sooner rather than later, you’ll be able to discuss the finer points of Renoir and Lang over a few drinks. Not to worry, if it’s initially a struggle. Ray Winstone remembers the first time he saw German drama The Tin Drum, and admits that “after five or ten minutes I stopped reading the subtitles – not that I understood German – but I knew what the film was about, and I knew what it was trying to tell me.” And if that’s good enough for Ray Winstone, that’s good enough for us.
“What we do in life echoes in eternity”
Films have wrenched the past out of the history books and into vivid reality on the big screen. Titular star of last year’s Belle and BAFTA Rising Star nominee Gugu Mbatha-Raw “grew up studying Elizabeth I at school, and was completely fascinated by her as a woman.” She claims Cate Blanchett’s stunning interpretation, in Elizabeth and The Golden Age, allowed her to “really live” the time and understand the character and the woman in great detail. Film can transport us – dropping audiences slap bang in the middle of events that might otherwise be chapters in an old book, or worse, forgotten. From Saving Private Ryan’s tiny, vivid taste of the sheer wanton destruction of the beach landings, and the terror that soldiers, barely old enough to vote, faced as their boat approached the cursed shore, to the incredible heroism of Schindler’s List’s protagonist: these are stories we simply must know.
Yes – there are the odd inaccuracies… Marie Antoinette didn’t actually wear Converse as depicted in the Kirsten Dunst-starring 2006 film. And Mbatha-Raw might be disappointed to learn that there was in fact no elaborate poison dress assassination attempt against Elizabeth. But, until time-travel is invented (and we retain high hopes in that regard), it is the closest we will get to living and breathing another time.
“You’d probably throw Shakespeare at me right?”
How many English Literature students down the years have picked up their weighty copy of Shakespeare’s back catalogue, rifled through the few thousand pages, and thought “actually, I might just watch the film?” Into Film’s downloadable Shakespeare resources contain embedded film clips to contextualise the film and encourage active viewing and analysis to aid understanding.
Game Of Thrones star Kit Harrington would certainly recommend it. He talks glowingly of Baz Luhrmann’s glitterball of an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet: “it’s the most brilliant rendition of that play,” and GCSE students nationwide would agree. The film offers a critical learning tool – the words of Shakespeare as spoken by Leonardo DiCaprio are the stuff of dreams, and responsible for bumping many a B up to an A. Far from being sheer laziness, film adaptations have huge worth in their own right for offering another perspective, and additional interpretations of the key themes and insights – many have got a grip on Of Mice and Men’s tragic farmhand Lenny through John Malkovich’s sensitive and studied portrayal of a man unaware of his own strength, and Emma Thompson’s wonderful Sense and Sensibility script draws out every last drop of Jane Austen’s considerable wit and humour. Now if only we could get an adaptation of Catcher In The Rye…
“I’m gonna tell you something really outrageous. I’m gonna tell you the truth.”
Finally, with a General Election in the offing, few things fire up our political passions better than the cold fury of a perfectly-penned script. Cribbing a few key notes from a quality flick can have us holding knowledgably forth over a pint at the pub like Obama. The facts, well-presented and clearly delivered, of An Inconvenient Truth, brought the question of Global Warming from the science labs and into the street – forcing the public to ask for more from their governments and big business, in the fight to go green. The race-relations of Selma and 12 Years A Slave have rarely been so relevant and have helped keep the spotlight firmly fixed on inequality, while the hard-hitting Blackfish has SeaWorld scrambling, as animal rights campaigners amass in protest, and last year’s feel-good Pride lent its voice to LGBT+ rights. Toby Jones still remembers the gut-punch that I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang brought. The film, about a convict in America’s Deep South “seemed so unjust, so brutal, that it fired my imagination.” Whatever the struggle, you can bet a filmmaker will be putting it out there. And there’s no better time to see them when you’re young, hungry, and fit enough to spend a day marching in the rain and chanting repetitive songs, in pursuit of the truth. So pick a film and find a cause, because, as the old saying goes, “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
The right movie at the right time can have a profound effect on a person. With filmmakers weaving their magic across the world, the potential for the sharing of different perspectives, experiences, and stories is almost limitless. Into Film believes in this power, and the pivotal role the medium can play on the lives and education of children and young people throughout the country. Find out more about Into Film and celebrate the power of learning: http://www.intofilm.org/into-film-awards